Google and Privacy

Should I use Google Apps? I don't want them to have access to my data!

Well, we have all sorts here in TIS. Some of us hate Google, others love them. The guy who hates Google says you should setup your own server farm, with custom scaling clusters to run your own cloud services and then make sure to hide it all behind a VPN so the government can't see you... The Google fan says to just give Google your Social Insurance Number, blood type, and first born...

I am a bit more in the middle, or try to be. Essentially Google is trustworthy... to a point. Files stored in Google drive are encrypted at rest, meaning that even if someone was at a Google datacenter and physically grabbed a hard drive with your data, they wouldn't be able to see it. In theory, this also means it is encrypted from Google itself and a disgruntled employee can't go look at anything. BUT:

Google Drive’s encryption has two main issues:

  1. During the upload process, your file has TLS protection. TLS stands for Transport Layer Security and is designed to protect data in transit. However, when your data arrives at the gates of your Google Drive, it is momentarily decrypted before being encrypted again. Why? Google rapidly scans and analyzes the file before encrypting it. There is very little chance of leakage, but it is still a slight flaw.
  2. You are never in control of the encryption keys, meaning you never have 100 percent control over your Google Drive data. Of course, you have 100 percent control in decision making—if you don’t like losing control of your encryption keys, this could be a problem.

Yes, your files are secure with Google Drive. Yes, Google encrypts them internally. But no, that doesn’t mean Google isn’t using you for advertising (it is their business model, after all). The bottom line is that if you’re using a free Google product, then you have no true expectation of complete privacy.

Even opening a file in google apps will expose that file to the advertising algorithm. But I'm going to be frank with you, using google search, google chrome, or even windows 10 (yes the operating system itself) exposes you to advertising algorithms. User data is the new currency of the world. You can get around this by changing to DuckDuckGo search, using Firefox, and switching to a Linux operating system... but even then the Internet Service Provider (Shaw, Sasktel, etc) tracks your information. This can be solved by a VPN. The preceding chain would hide you fairly well... but every other website uses cookies and javascript to get your location, and information about your device and browser. Companies like Facebook have been proven MUCH worse for tracking and privacy (ever mention you are thinking of buying a product only to see ads pop up in facebook feeds about it? Yep facebook messenger is used for advertising).

I say all this not to scare of course, but to inform. Privacy security is possible, but it's very difficult. You need to really spend a lot of time and get rid of inconveniences to do so. Even stuff like airmiles is used to track your shopping habits.

So after all that, if you don't want to use Google Drive, there is a solution. is an open source office suite that is built and maintained by the community. It works well enough, but don't expect ease of use and there is a learning curve. But it's free, and since its open source been deemed "safe" from privacy concerns since anyone can inspect the code at any time.

What I'm getting at, is that if Google Apps and Google Drive concern you with privacy; then Facebook, Windows 10, Google Search, Google Chrome etc should concern you as well, if not more. Like I said, even our ISPs track us. So to me, I already accept the privacy issues with the other applications, so I may as well accept the other privacy concerns too.

If I just scared you so much you never want to use the internet again, Tails is an operating system that uses its own network and special systems to self destruct every time you shut it down, and reinstall every time you start it again. It uses a browser system call "Tor" that will randomize your IP address every time you visit a new website, and is theoretically untraceable. The downside with it, is that it is also how you get to the "deep web" and is used by criminals so it makes you feel slimy using it.

Hopefully I helped! I kind of doubt that I did, but at the very least I hope I armed you with more information to make a decision that best fits your comfort. I will say that open source is generally your friend as anyone can look at the code and determine if its legit or not. If you truly want to delve into this world of privacy, I would also suggest a podcast called "The Privacy Security & OSINT Show" as it is a very good source on what is open to the world, as well as how we can try and protect ourselves.

Have an awesome day, and if you'd like to ignore everything I said, the answer is: 
"If you use Facebook, just use Google Drive too."

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